Downtown renaissance ignites | Local News

LACONIA – Warren Clement, 79, and Brandon Borghi, 27, represent Laconia’s old and new guards.

Along with other longtime business owners and those who have settled in recent years, they are entrepreneurs, brokers, and cheerleaders looking to make downtown a travel destination – a bustling neighborhood and a main street where people meet, life enjoy and stay.

It is a movement that they cultivate and that is gaining momentum.

The city center has blossomed in the last 18 months. Defiant Record and Craft Beer opened next to the entrance to the Colonial Theater. Koung Sushi, Piedmont Print and Frame and Trillium Farm to Table now occupy a number of storefronts from Canal Street to Beacon Street East. Window boxes line the sidewalk on Main Street. Boutique-style vendors with stylish interiors and open doors attract pedestrian traffic and make passing cars stop. Locals stroll for morning coffee and pastries, lunch, or beer and appetizers after work.

Downtown Laconia turns the corner.

“It’s always been a beautiful city center. It just took a little love and more people to get involved, ”said Borghi, who opened Fit Focus, a large, full-service fitness center on Main Street two years ago.

“It brings together young people with energy and ideas who know how to serve the younger,” said Clement, who opened the Sundial Shop in 1972, which was a Main Street landmark for 37 years. Clement is now selling properties at ReMax Bayside, in the same building that once housed his eclectic store. “Now it is important to bring in what the community, the office and the retail sector need in a targeted manner and to respond to them.”

The architecture, charm, and potential of downtown Laconia led Borghi, his brother Derek, and their father to purchase the spacious building that used to be the site of Grace Capital Church to convert it into a large, city-style health club . It now attracts pre-work and post-work athletes from Alton, Wolfeboro, and Center Harbor, Borghi said.

“I came here and said, ‘This place is beautiful. Look at all the historic buildings, ‘”said Borghi, who moved here from Boston. “Four years ago it wasn’t as enthusiastic as it is now.”

A domino effect can take hold: Target companies fuel consumer-oriented satellites that are expected to produce more.

Fit Focus attracts “people who are interested in wellbeing and spending money in the city center. After exercising, you are hungry and thirsty. You want to have a cup of coffee or have your shoes repaired, ”he said.

The new tenants in his building, which also includes the ground floor of the municipal parking garage, include the Meraki Hair Salon, Luxe Lashes by Antonia and the GoodNatured Juice and Smoothie Bar, which is expected to open on Wednesday and a living room in the Art Deco Features style and revolving local art.

“I wanted this room to be not just a juicer, but a place to hang out,” said Gilmanton’s owner Vincenzo Sisti. “I want the color to come from plants and local artwork on the walls – things that generally make people happy from a psychological point of view.”

In general, people want a personal experience and things that suit their personal tastes.

“The whole mall thing isn’t that popular anymore. Main Street really is the ‘It’ thing, “said Jose Diaz, an optician who moved from Boston to the Lakes region and opened Spyglass Eyewear downtown in July 2020. The pandemic, he said, made it possible for more people to working remotely, making them tired of social isolation and living over zoom, telling them to shop locally and look for more signature items rather than chain store uniformity.

With the restoration of the Colonial Theater secured, the downtown rebirth began “to spring up. One store opened, then another, ”said Diaz. With the support and interest of the city from developers and start-ups: “It’s a perfect storm. The community as a whole cheers everyone to be successful. “

The goal now is to maintain the dynamism and make the city center a self-supporting and resilient engine.

On Tuesday, September 21, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Lakeport Opera House, Mayor Andrew Hosmer, Meredith developer Rusty McLear, Concord developer Stephen Duprey and local restaurateur Karen Bassett will have a community-wide conversation led by businessman and former Mayor Mike Seymour will moderate: LAKEVIEWS: Panel discussion on inner city development and an artistic networking reception. Seats are no longer available for the event, but it is streamed live by LRPA and can be viewed later.

The panelists talk about what works and what doesn’t and share their ideas and experiences with the renaissance of the inner city.

It’s a story that unfolds elsewhere in New Hampshire as mill towns of character are rediscovered and renovated, and change in Laconia is dramatic. Young entrepreneurs with passion and experience want to redefine the core of the city on a sustainable basis.

“You need a village, and you can really feel that. If you need retail therapy, you can get it here. The game that accelerates downtown development is art, ”said Diaz of Spyglass Eyewear. “I’ve seen it work in New York and Boston. It’s also a technical thing. “

Destination stores and services move from a wide area and spark more to gain a foothold in the city center as long as there is enough parking space. Energy and enthusiasm are essential – and contagious.

“If we want to see something downtown, we do it. We want to keep the place alive, ”said Karen Bassett, owner of Wayfarer Coffee Roasters, which serves a variety of beers to suit all palates. Since opening in 2015, the café has grown into a downtown meeting point and hotspot for regulars who work remotely for hours.

Bassett and her husband Reuben, who are in their mid 30s, opened Burrito Me in 2010, followed by Wayfarer on Main Street in 2015. They bought Local Eatery in 2019 and opened Wayfarer Coffee Lakeport on the first floor of the Lakeport Opera House that year 2020 She said she would like to see more downtown restaurants, including outdoor seating and alternatives. “For us we’re excited,” she said. “The more options we have, the more people will come to this area.” The aim is to encourage and keep a steady stream of newcomers, regulars and tourists. “Simply creating something that catches your eye as you drive through” would help, she said, with the help of improved building facades, colorful shop windows and downtown lighting.

“I hope we see people who are 35 years old and are just starting to see downtown Laconia as a place to fly their flag or start their careers,” said Rusty McLear, 75, who did the 1983 Led revival of Meredith by converting a former asbestos factory into a hotel complex. McLear recently built nine high-quality, mid-range condos on two floors above the Colonial Theater. Last week all but two were sold.

For an inner city to thrive, there has to be desirable housing in a place that people want to live in, then the economic revitalization effect is synergistic, McLear said. “If an inner city is to be really successful, the residential facilities in the inner city have to be successful. You have to have people who add to the community by living there. Whatever is done downtown has to be of good to very good quality and not terrible, very expensive. It has to attract people for quality and affordability. “

There are rumors of further housing expansion. Last year, the former rectory of St. Joseph’s Church was bought by a young couple with children who made the Victorian-era rectory their primary residence. The adjacent former Catholic school building will be converted into apartments just a few minutes’ walk from the city center.

“Who would have thought that there would be a sushi restaurant in downtown Laconia? There are a lot of things here that Colonial is pushing and doing independently, ”said McLear. “What it has now is that it is an attractive downtown area in a great region between Lakes Winnisquam and Winnipesaukee,” which stays alive with fall tourism, winter activities and skiing in Gunstock, “which is its best year ever in the middle of the pandemic would have”. “Said McLear, who sits on the board of the district-owned recreation facility.

“Lots of new people are visiting the area. If you combine good ideas with capital, you have a potentially working project. ”One piece in a vacuum is never enough. With the restored Lakeport Opera House: “It’s a really good start to build a dynamic that catches fire. If the state school grounds are properly developed, it could be a big boost for Laconia. “